Posted by Rojas @ 2:17 pm on June 9th 2007

What if Barack Obama is killed?

This post will get me in trouble. I’m going to write it anyway.

I’ll preface this by saying, clearly and distinctly, that I don’t endorse the assassination of any American political figure for any reason–neither Barack Obama nor anyone else. I do, however, think that there’s an elephant in the room where Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy is concerned. As people who write for a living would likely lose their jobs for raising the issue, I guess that duty falls to people like myself.

The issue was first raised by Eddie Murphy in his standup comedy routines, and later by Chris Rock discussing Colin Powell. I don’t have Murphy’s or Rock’s gift for making serious situations funny. However, I also don’t believe that avoiding discussion of unpleasant possibilities makes them less likely; nor do I care for the notion that scary or sad hypotheticals should not be discussed, lest they come to pass. If we can contemplate this possibility when considering Vice Presidential candidates, we can contemplate it now.

People who disagree, who think that raising the issue is a hideous mistake, would be best served to ignore this post, as drawing attention to it would undoubtedly make the problem worse.

So: what happens if, God forbid, Barack Obama is assassinated?

Obama’s assassination would alter not just the campaign, but the entire political landscape, in a way that would be fundamentally shattering. I don’t think, moreover, that it would matter who killed him, or why; the ramifications would be the same in any case.

Initially: hate crimes legislation would leap immediately to the forefront as a campaign issue, and I’m afraid that any candidate who failed to endorse such legislation, regardless of how illogical the bill might be or how draconian its terms, would pay a severe price at the polls. It would be something of a Patriot Act/9-11 scenario in which the short-term emotive reaction would trump all reason. What about gun control? Its advocates would do everything they could to put the issue in play, but I don’t know that any candidates would pick up on it, for reasons of political dynamics that I’ll discuss below.

It is tempting to say that civil rights as a larger issue would be elevated to the top-tier of campaign issues, but it’s difficult for me to think of a particular way in which the issue might manifest itself. It’s hard to contemplate a manifestation of policy, other than hate crimes legislation, that would address African-American disadvantage of the sort that would be made apparent by an event of this sort. There would be a lot of TALK about civil rights, make no mistake, but I don’t know that this discussion would consolidate into a policy agenda. This isn’t 1968, in other words.

There would be a lot of people trying to RECREATE 1968, however. That there would be rioting is, I fear, a given. I also fear that Al Sharpton would immediately leap into the race for the Presidency, ludicrously claiming Obama’s mantle as his own. It wouldn’t work, but it would certainly lend an overtone of farce to the procedings.

In a purely political sense, the Democratic nomination, and the Presidency, would almost certainly fall to Hillary Clinton. This might not be the intuitive reaction most observers would have, as Obama’s support tends to lean towards Edwards in an ideological sense. However, Hillary would have a couple of psychological factors working in her favor. The first would be a powerful desire for atonement both within the nation as a whole and in the Democratic Party in particular–it would be very, very difficult, I think, for the Democrats to allow the assassination of an African-American political figure to compel them to nominate a rich white guy. Moreover: it would not be difficult under the circumstances for Clinton to eliminate pretty much all divisive rhetoric on the campaign trail, given that Obama’s most explicit legacy would be his call to reject “divisive” messages. That would leave the public with very little opportunity to hear messages that oppose the nomination of the frontrunner.

Clinton might well nominate someone like Harold Ford as her VP. If Ford were to accept the nomination, it would destroy his political career. Fairly or unfairly, he’d be perpetually compared to Obama–not to the flawed, flesh-and-blood Obama, but to the martyred figure of overwhelming charisma and universal appeal that the public would turn Obama into. The best he could hope for would be a career arc rivalling Ted Kennedy’s; more likely he would wind up as a Robert Lincoln.

We’d see a lot more of Bill Clinton on the campaign trial–not just for his role as the “first black President,” but in a conscious attempt to draw fire from Republicans, thereby enabling Hillary to claim that they were once again rejecting Barack’s legacy.

During the general election, the entire field would be tilted radically in Hillary’s favor. The issues on the table would all be “Democratic” issues. Anything remotely resembling criticism of the candidate would be “divisive,” and hence poison to the speaker. The Democratic base would turn out in droves, particularly African-Americans; portions of the Republican base would be vaugely ashamed to vote at all. There would certainly be no reason for Clinton to jeopardize her imminent victory with controversial policy proposals on matters like gun control. Clinton would win, and it wouldn’t be close.

That having been said, I’m tempted to think that the entire tenor of political discussion would be deeply, fundamentally poisoned–and for decades–by the dynamic that would take hold during the campaign. One cannot run a democracy if people are afraid to express their views for fear of being seen as “divisive.” Obama’s legacy would mushroom far beyond anything he’d intended; it would create an environment where controversial views, left without an outlet, would manifest themselves in far more dangerous ways.

Ironically, the only “divisive” rhetoric permitted would be expressions of racial grievance. This double standard would further poison the well of race relations by alienating many caucasians from the cause. We would wind up a lot further apart, in terms of understanding, than we are now. Ironically, it might be a long, long time before another African-American politician could be successful at the national level.

Lastly, America’s global critics would be immesurably emboldened by the tragedy. They would be far more successful in portraying America as a violent and racist society. The blow to American soft power would rival that caused by the second Iraq War–just as Obama’s election might have been seen around the world as a progressive gesture, his assassination would be seen as a massively regressive one.

It’s a strange, chilling scenario to consider. There have been few if any instances in which the deaths of political figures have improved a country, but the assassination of Barack Obama might be one of the worst things that could happen to the United States.

4 Comments »

  1. That’s a bizarre, but fascinating, post. Honestly, the thought hadn’t even really occurred to me, at least not outside the context of him being president.

    I don’t know, first of all, that Obama is that much more of a target than anybody else for potential assassins. We’ve had plenty of African-American political leaders since MLK Jr, and also plenty of pot-shots at pols, and the two don’t seem all that strongly correlated, to me. The days where the biggest threats to elected black officials are Alabama Good Ole Boys are pretty well past. The biggest assassination threats these days are probably from right-wing militants (of the Tim McVeigh sort), Islamic terrorists (if they can manage it), or just plain psychopathic lunatics of the John Hinkley Jr. variety. The latter being pretty hard to predict, the former being so down the rabbit hole that somebody like John McCain or Rudy Giuliani (for very different reasons) could be a stronger target of their ire, and the middle, the terrorists, I would guess might be more likely to target somebody like Obama who represented moral leadership (they seem happy enough to leave our current president alone), but I’m not convinced they have much in the way of ability to pull something like that off.

    If it’s Islamic terrorists, of course, the scenario you envision would be a lot different, but Obama’s legacy might actually have enough power to quell the worst of the outraged blowback. If it’s just some nut, I don’t think hate crimes legislation becomes that big a deal, and it’s hard to see that, in any event, ever becoming the broad threat of something like the Patriot Act. Pernicious and bad policy, to be sure, but the only real juju you could get out of it would be to federalize it and ratchet up the penalties.

    The real scary part is, as you say, the “anti-divisiveness” call-to-arms. That could be noble and decent in the right hands, but even then would be so bastardized as it disseminates as to present a real problem. The 9-11 parallel is the obvious one, where it really did have a remarkably chilling effect on practical and useful discourse in this country, and then itself became a tool of divisiveness (much faster than I would have predicted) in the hands of the Republican party and the President. Discourse is still chilled because of it, 6 years later, but the real blanket period was fall 2001 to about fall 2003. And the effects have been monstrous, by any measure (so even though it was a rather short period of time, historically, its effect was hugely disproportionate compared to how much normally gets done, for good or bad, in a two year period).

    It’s also worth noting, in terms of African-American reaction, that Obama doesn’t exactly fit the niche of a civil rights leader or even a black community figurehead. He really does exist somewhere outside that sphere, much more so than any other African-American pols save perhaps Condi Rice. There would be reaction, to be sure, but I don’t know that it would entail mass rioting in the streets in the way it honestly might if it were, say, the Reverend Sharpton even.

    Your best insight is the Harold Ford thing. He may still well be a VP contender on the Clinton ticket, given as he’s a hardcore Clinton Democrat and big in-the-trenches supporter who I hear is busy pulling every string he can AGAINST Obama and Edwards (and will likely ratchet that up). John Lewis would be my own pick. But yeah, it seems for sure that Clinton would go with one of them.

    Interesting to think about, though it is a pretty out-there hypothetical I think. I guess, at my core, I’m an optimist (I know that’s hard to believe given my shrillness on how much this country has been flushed down the toilet after 9-11), and believe that America would bounce back and be stronger for it in some ways, though there would be much turbulence.

    Comment by Brad — 6/9/2007 @ 3:27 pm

  2. What if Obama is assassinated in office ?

    I wrote an essay on this subject because I believe it could lead to a US collapse, this is a synopsis.

    I would first say that I am against anyone killing anyone and hope this never happens to any president, but historically presidents have been assassinated and that possibility should be open for free discussion.

    What would happen if Obama is assasinated in office ? There are well organized and armed groups that absolutely will not allow the US to have a non-white president. There are many more individual radicals that have this same view. The chances of one or more of these people planning and carrying out an assination attempt on Obama if he is elected is very high in my opinion.

    If an attempt is successful what would be the effect in the US, and what if this assassination included his wife and children ?
    When president Kennedy was assassinated it was a white man killing a white man and the entire nation except for a few disenfranchised people mourned and were brought closer as the result. I do not believe that will be the case in the event Obama is assassinated by a white man especially if this white man has any ties to the radical aryan groups we have in the US.
    We have allready witness how many blacks reacted after the beating of Rodney King and the subsequent trial. There were riots in many black neighborhoods and violence against innocent white people. Just imagine what will be the reaction if Obama is killed by a white man!

    I believe if an assination does occur it may quickly escaltae into an all out civil race war. This will reult in marshal law and the national guard will be deployed. But our national guard has lots of black men enlisted so what will our gov do. Will they arm these black soldiers and expect them to kill other black people in the event of major civil dissobedience ?

    You will see guerilla warfare with black leaders and white leaders taking law into there own hands. Anyone and everyone has a gun these days and they will be used. Prisons are ultra full of black men that will riot and kill any white inmates and this will require more effort by the National guard and local authorities to contain leaving our streets vulnerable. People will try to leave the US but other countries will seal their borders for fear of a mass US migration.
    Powrr plants, factories, stores, and financial institutions will close out of fear of racial attacks. People will be cold, hungry and possibly homeless as the national guard and guerilla groups take over cities and kill or imprison opposing parties. I believe you will see atrocities that will rival that of Hitlers concentration camps, and it will all be in high definition curtesy of our media which will further infuriate and feed the panic.

    The US will be divided int a north and south or black and white and people not willing to move will be moved or killed I fear.
    Other countries like Europe may want to help but many countries will do nothing and enjoy the civil war the US is facing and hope if the US collapses they can step in and sweep up the spoils.

    Countries that are muslim may even support the black muslims guerilla soldiers with money, supplies and weapons. White people will want to defend themselves but most white people do not have the kill to survive at all costs mentality that guerilla fighters will and they will be overcome.

    power plants, military bases, and nuclear weapons facilities will fall into the hand of guerillas and it is possible these could be used by radical groups within our own borders on our own people.

    If leaders of the newly formed white and black nations can work out a peace treaty they may be able to co-exist on this tiny continent, but I think that would be difficult and only the stronger will survive. Which is that ? Well thats up to you to figure out!

    privatemax

    Comment by privatemax — 2/12/2008 @ 2:41 pm

  3. Um…

    …naaaaaaah.

    Comment by Rojas — 2/12/2008 @ 2:45 pm

  4. Idiot.

    Comment by Jack — 2/12/2008 @ 5:01 pm

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